The Industrial Heritage of Barbados
The Industrial Heritage of Barbados: The Story of Sugar and Rum is part of the Tentative list of Barbados in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Industrial Heritage of Barbados represents the impact of the production of sugar and rum on the landscape. The 5 selected areas include residences for the landholders and workers (including slaves), mills, factories. They are testimony of the Barbadian ‘Sugar Revolution’ of the 17th century, when large sugarcane plantations were established for more profit but at great social costs.
Map of The Industrial Heritage of BarbadosLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
I visited this tWHS in January 2023 as a very pleasant round-the-island day trip by rental car. The tWHS is made up of 5 locations, 3 clustered in the North, 1 in the South East of the island, and 1 in the South quite close to the airport.
First off we headed early to the Northern cluster. The most organised (and expensive at 50 USD for the combo ticket!) location of the 3 is by far St. Nicholas Abbey and its Steam Heritage Railway. The steam railway departs everyday except Saturdays at 10:00, 11:30, 13:30 and 14:30. If you decide to skip the steam railway ride, the highlight of the trip, the manually operated turntable, can still be enjoyed from a few metres off the beautiful mahogany avenue leading to the abbey, where you'll be able to also spot green monkeys and perhaps some birds too. Back in the old days, the steam train lines extended down to Batsheba Bay and beyond, but now the railway only exists within the plantation yard, beyond the Great House, the croquet lawn, and factory buildings. It offers an exceptional panoramic view from Cherry Tree Hill and equally on the return journey the entire North of the island of Barbados overlooking the Great House with the Caribbean Sea in the background.
Built in 1658, St. Nicholas Abbey is one of the island's oldest surviving plantations. With its original boundaries still intact, the plantation encompasses over 400 acres of rolling sugar cane fields, tropical gullies, mahogany forests and formal gardens. Set amongst towering cabbage palms is the plantation's Great House, a Jacobean mansion featuring elegant curvilinear gables and ornamental detail, including four cornerstone chimneys and fireplaces in two of the upstair bedrooms. These are quite unusual characteristics for a Caribbean home, which were added in keeping with plans thought to have been brought from England, where the Dutch-influenced architectural style was popular at the time. All the original furniture has been preserved inside the house and the guided tour inside was really well done, with artefacts of the enslaved which help reflect on those who in the past toiled within the plantation system supporting the production and expansion of the sugar industry in Barbados and the West Indies. Two items I'll definitely not forget are the unique adjustable multipurpose Gentleman's Chair and the Sailors' Valentines collection of popular souvenirs from the region around 1860.
The other obvious highlight is the Boiling House with the old Steam Mill (still in operation crushing sugar cane on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays), the Syrup Plant and the Distillery. The steam engine was installed in the St. Nicholas Abbey Steam Mill in 1890, increasing the plantation's production by 10-15% over the original windmill. The annual crop season runs from February to May, but the plantation starts grinding in early January to allow more visitors to witness the historic process. The steam mill crushes 350 tonnes of cane over this extended period. The Syrup Plant converts raw cane juice into a very sweet syrup or molasses, with approximately 70% sugar. The juice is processed by the rolling filter, then raised by vacuum to the boiler, where it is heated using the same steam supply as the mill. The large stainless steel tank holds 1,900 litres of syrup, which is used by the distillery to produce over 40 barrels of rum annually. In the distillery the highlight is "Annabelle", the traditional copper pot, vessels and rectifying column used to produce fine quality rum, which is then aged in bourbon barrels. Our group was particularly lucky to meet the owner's wife who dressed in a while lab coat gave us a very thorough yet personal overview of the subtle differences in the different aged rums, and showed us how each St. Nicholas Abbey Barbados Rum is hand-bottled in an elegant decanter, individually etched with an image of the Great House and sealed with a mahogany cork topped with hand-embossed leather, symbolic of the island's first mahogany trees planted on Cherry Tree Hill over 250 years ago.
It is very easy to join an organised tour to St. Nicholas Abbey and the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill or Windmill but having a rental car makes it easier to take your own time and also visit some of the pretty beaches once you have visited the Northern part of the island. The Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill is the second best location of this tWHS and is the Caribbean's largest and only working windmill (present on Barbados' coins and banknotes too). The mill was dismantled for restoration and reopened in 1999. With all its original working parts having been preserved intact, the sails were able to turn again after the project was completed, and cane was ground again after more than half a century. Although two of the mill's three sails suffered quite some damage due to Hurricane Elsa in July 2021, the rest of the mill remained intact and is now open to visit. The interior is really well kept and the hard hat given, really did its job well on the way up and down at least a couple of times (especially if you're tall).
The third location we visited in the North was Mount Gay, the oldest distillery in Barbados and in the world (1703). Unlike the first location we visited, this distillery has much more industrial environs, and lots of security guards all over the place. To visit the distillery, you have to book in advance and you're given a time-slot when to visit or when you'll get picked up (usually from the Mount Gay Rum Visitor Centre close to the Cruiseship Terminal which has nothing to do with the tWHS!). Having experienced the more intimate St. Nicholas Abbey before, I must admit that this distillery visit was less satisfying and I would have certainly given a thumbs down had I visited only this distillery.
After visiting a number of beaches on the East coast of Barbados, we visited the fourth location, Codrington College and sugar cane estates, one of the oldest Anglican theological colleges in the Americas. When the sugar cane estates were still operating, the theological society and college benefited directly from the institution of slavery. The college also includes the Principal's Lodge. Originally, the Consett plantation Great House, it was a large building but simply designed in three chambers. The impressive porch is made with carved coral stone and adorned with original carved Jacobean balustrades. The building is now used as a library and for study space. The highlight of my visit to the college was its entrance lined with specimen trees of varyious species, including giant silk cotton, whitewood or white cedars, mahogany and others, with an ornamental lake fed by a natural spring.
Codrington College's many references to slavery on the few information boards at the site, together with the moments of reflection at the St. Nicholas Abbey Great House, set the tone for our last location, the Newton Burial Grounds. Even with Google Maps, at first I had quite some difficulty to locate this location, as it is literally hidden behind a small industrial estate with no road signs at all. Some of the workers there, don't even know about this memorial place or even its name which is a shame. The area of about 4,500 square metres was used as a cemetery for slaves on Newton Plantations. An estimated 570 slaves were buried here, some in low-earthen mounds, others in non-mound graves. Artefacts found here, including jewellery and eating utensils, and excavations revealed valuable archaeological information of slave life in Barbados. The artefacts are on display at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. What's left is completely intangible; a rather small space or memorial with a few trees providing shade on a few benches, although it is portrayed as the only excavated communal slave burial ground within a plantation setting in the western hemisphere.
All in all, this industrial heritage tWHS is a must when visiting Barbados (enjoyable even if you don't drink alcohol), and by including these 5 locations related to rum production and slavery, I think it has potential. In my opinion, Mount Gay Distilleries need to improve their tour, while Newton Burial Grounds would certainly benefit from a a few road signs and a visitor centre, ideally with more information and with the excavated artefacts on display in situ.
Out of the 5 components (St. Nicholas Abbey, Morgan Lewis Windmill, Newton Burial Ground, Codrington College, Mount Gay Historic Distillery), I visited the first 4. In my opinion and experience, this proposal has high chances of getting inscribed on the World Heritage list.
Barbados was one of the prime British colonies in the Caribbean and has been widely accredited to be the birthplace of rum, a product of the sugar plantations on the island. The sites proposed tell the story of this sugar and rum production in the Caribbean, in my eyes more than sufficiently.
St. Nicholas Abbey (which was never a place of religion, but rather a plantation), Morgan Lewis Windmill (the biggest and only surviving sugar windmill in the Caribbean) and the Mount Gay historic distillery (the oldest continious rum distillery in the world) are all relatively close to each other, on the north(-east) side of the island.
Entry to St. Nicholas Abbey is 20 USD, but can be upgraded with a tour on the new Heritage Railway to a total of 40 USD. I think this is quite steep, but tourist attractions in Barbados have high entry fees in general.
The Morgan Lewis Windmill was a cool site to visit, especially for a Dutchman. However, the site is quite small as it comprises only the windmill. I did not go in, but the surroundings made it a worthwile visit.
I did not visit the distillery, as I already has visited the distillery at St. Nicholas Abbey, and seeing as the entry fee to the Mount Gay distillery is very high. I guess I will save this for a second visit to the island.
The Newton Burial Ground is very remote, located near the more popular town of Oistins (famous for its fish fry). This was the burial ground for slaves of the Newton plantation, and has provided archaeologists with uncomparably rich information on the daily life of slaves in the Caribbean.
Codrington College, located on the east coast, is also quite remote, but definitely worth the trip. It is the oldest seminary in the Caribbean. The views of the Atlantic and park surrounding the seminary make this visit even better.
If sites of tequila production can make it to the World Heritage list, so too can the sites related to rum and sugar production. In general, the selection of the sites provides a very good view of the role (slaves in) Barbados played.
The Story of Sugar and Rum is a multiple location THWS. I visited the Saint Nicholas Abbey and the Morgan Lewis Wind Mill and enjoyed my tour. Both sites are easily reached by car. Saint Nicholas Abbey is a manor with attached distillery, partially surrounded by sugar cane fields. The manor has a long history and its interior is splendid. However, the whole complex is not very big. Only one of the 2 floors of the manor was open so I had to be creative to spend more than 10 minutes inside. The distillery is small but nice and still in use. The forest behind the manor is home to some monkeys. I got lucky and saw them. On the down side, entry fee is over the top exaggerated with 20 USD.
The Morgan Lewis Wind Mill is just a few minutes’ drive (there is a nice view spot on the way) from the manor. Seems it was once a museum with entry fee, but when I arrived it seemed rather abandoned. Funny to see a wind mill in the Caribbean, but not that special for a European.
I skipped Mount Gay distillery in Bridgetown due to lack of time. All in all I think this would be a much nicer WHS than Bridgetown, Barbados’ current single WHS. Rum production is not overrepresented on the list so far.
2005 Added to Tentative List
The site has 5 locations
23 Community Members have visited.